THE BEST COWBOYS ARE FROM OHIO

SONG OF TEXAS
Joseph Kane
1943

This is a boilermaker plot, Roy and the good guys saving the ranch from the bad guys.  But as run-of-the-mill as Song of Texas is, Roy Rogers’ acting is so outstanding that the film becomes a perfect example of his inability to make a wrong step before the camera.  Every moment, he is acting, listening and reacting.  He is in character  —  his character, his persona  —  in each frame.

in UNDER NEVADA SKIES

The music:  The film opens in a children’s hospital where Rogers visits and performs for the patients.  While Mexicali Rose seems an odd and inappropriate choice, he delivers it in  a manner suitable for children.  But later when he sings Moonlight and Roses to his costar, it is definitely for adults only.

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Rick’s Journal    —        MY FILM CAREER

Having written the mini review above, I next saw UNDER CALIFORNIA STARS

UNDER CALIFORNIA STARS
William Witney
1948

Roy Rogers performed for half a century.  What I was not there for, I have researched and studied and retroactively reviewed.  In all the years and career that are Roy Rogers, UNDER CALIFORNIA STARS is my first disappointment.

My initial reaction was to blame it on color.  My gut told me that Roy Rogers does not belong in color.  But then I recalled that I discovered him in color, singing “Blue Shadows on the Trail” in Disney’s Melody Time. 

Could the fault be Trucolor?  Much fault, in general, can be found with Trucolor.  But can it explain some  —  only a handful  —  but some strange facial expressions which take him outside his persona?  —  for the FIRST TIME.  (And Trucolor cannot be blamed for a slight addition in weight, especially in the face.  Or can it?)

UNDER CALIFORNIA STARS has other problems.  A dog of a plot; lack of pace; a kid at its center who cannot act; and uninteresting songs for Roy.  Even Jane Frazee can’t be at her best when required to keep mugging for the camera.

And there must be the supposedly comic sidekick, and this time it’s the supposedly funny Andy Devine.

UNDER CALIFORNIA SKIES is of course worth seeing, but it is Roy’s first A-.

Roy — in color

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You’ve heard of the fastest gun in the west, king of the west, etc.  I have always personally thought of Bob Nolan as ego of the west.  But he is restrained and effective in UNDER CALIFORNIA SKIES.  I may have been doing him an injustice.

Bob Nolan of the Sons of the Pioneers

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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COMING SOON TO RICK’S FLICKS  —  ROY ROGERS, ACTOR, AND MODERNIST

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Yet one further quotation from Italo Calvino:  As is evident from my previous citations, Calvino grew up in his small town in Italy learning and knowing the Hollywood film so well that he had all the themes, all the plots and all the players at his beck and call  —  succinctly and precisely.  Here he is on the personas of various supporting players:  “…for the comic parts (Everett Horton and Frank Morgan), or the ‘baddies’ (John Carradine and Joseph Calleia.)  It was a bit like in the pantomime, where all the roles are predictable, so that reading the cast list I would already know that Billie Burke must be the somewhat dotty lady, Aubrey Smith the crusty colonel, Mischa Auer the penniless scrounge, Eugene Pallette the millionaire [and] the actor who always played the touchy hotel porter [or waiter] (Franklin Pangborn).”

(“A Cinema-goer’s Autobiography” in The Road to San Giovanni by Italo Calvino.  New York,  Pantheon Books, 1993.)

NEXT FRIDAY POST April 26

Until then,
GET OUT AND GO TO THE MOVIES,
See you there,
Rick

THE WONDER OF JUDE LAW

BEYOND SUBTLETY (AS IN SUBTLETY MULTIPLIED)

There is nothing new or original under the sun of Dom Hemingway, a screenplay about a bitter man who serves someone else’s term and leaves prison hell-bent on revenge  —  revenge on his personal enemies and on the world.  What IS new is further excellence from Jude Law in the title role.  The bawdy soliloquies and dialogue give him film-long loose reign.  But there are three instances of nuance beyond subtlety in the mobile face and talking eyes of one of our most remarkable actors.

Hey Jude!

SPOILER ALERTS:  There is the scene outside the club where his daughter sings.  This is the scene in which she refuses to call him Dad, the moment when he grasps the depth of her rejection of him.  The expression of Law’s eyes is desperately human beyond description.

Then there is the farewell scene between him and this now slightly softening daughter Evie and his grandson, after their meeting at the cemetery where Evie’s mother lies buried.  Again the eyes:  hurt and hope.

But especially there is the earlier scene on the train as Dom and his friend Dickie    travel through the French countryside to visit Mr. Fontaine (Demián Bichir) for whom Dom went to prison and spent twelve years behind the bars.  Dickie (Richard E. Grant) tells a hungover and sexually exhausted Dom that he cannot make up for twelve years in three days.  Law’s miraculously expressive face as he replies:  “But I tried,”  registers bluster, pride, then self-amusement.

This is one of the best actors in movies.

Bear the barrage of obscenities and don’t miss Dom Hemingway.

DOM HEMINGWAY

written and directed by Richard Shepard

2013

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Readers will be interested in an interview with Jude Law by Kathryn Shattuck in The NEW YORK TIMES.  Shattuck begins rather strangely by appearing to wonder if, in playing Dumbledore in Fantastic Beasts, Law should be worried about taking on a part played by Richard Harris and Michael Gambon   These are both fine actors, but  —  I mean  —  Really?  Is she not familiar with the 25 years of remarkable performances by Jude Law?

But her questions to him are useful, especially one about his appearance.  Responding about what he himself calls the problem of being “the beautiful young thing,” he is interesting, amusing and profound.

(“Jude Law, on Dumbledore and Himself” by Kathryn Shattuck, New York Times, 11/18/18.)

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George M. Thomas writes:  “Law is perfectly cast as the playfully charming Dumbledore.  It’s difficult to recall when any actor has dropped himself into a role played previously by someone else with such ease and made it his own.”  (“Fantastic Beasts Losing Charm” by George M. Thomas, Akron Beacon Journal, 11/17/18.)

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Jude Law is currently on theater screens in Captain Marvel.

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Jude Law on RICK’S FLICKS

11/9/18
2/19/16
2/12/16
1/22/16
1/15/16
8/28/15
11/15/13
1/20/12
12/21/11

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NEXT FRIDAY POST March 29

Until then,
See you at the movies.
Rick

 

 

 

BEST BOOKS ABOUT FILM

BEST BOOKS

Reader Jane H. Three suggested that I blog about the best books on film.  I decided on the proverbial ten best but, unable to hold it to ten, I went for twenty  —  in two parts:  a blog on ten and a blog for a second ten.

Humility interferes:  As I surveyed my choices and noted the unevenness of the kinds of books and the frequent bent towards favorite films and favorite people of my own, I felt compelled to alter Jane’s suggestion and call this FAVORITE BOOKS ABOUT FILM.

The list includes surveys and histories and books of theory; titles treating genre; titles about individual performers and directors;  and books about particular films.

My original intent to include complete bibliographical information as clue to their availability has proven easier thought than accomplished.  If any reader is interested in the original publication data or current availability of a particular title, I will do my best to help.

RICK’S FLICKS’ FAVORITE TEN

Eisenstein’s ALEXANDER NEVSKY

THE FILM TILL NOW by Paul Rotha.  A personal favorite:  the first film history I read; the first film book I bought.  It surveys international film from its beginnings  —  and with a supplement by Richard Griffith, “The Film Since Then”  — and through 1948.  It is hard on Hollywood.

FILM FORM and THE FILM SENSE by S.M. Eisenstein.  Abstract and abstruse but essential.  The great director’s two volumes of theory and praxis are filled with examples from his own work and illustrated with unusual graphics plus stills from his films.

THE FILM AND THE PUBLIC by Roger Manvell.  A survey of all aspects of film and its history through 1955.  It includes analytical discussions of many of the author’s favorites:  Greed, L’Atalante; Brief Encounter; The Third Man and others.

THE STARS by Richard Schickel.  A serious critic’s views of all the famous stars in the Hollywood studio system from the beginnings through the 50s, ending with Elizabeth Taylor whom he dubs “the last star.”  The book includes the finest single paragraph ever written about Judy Garland.  (What would Schickel write today of Cruise, McQueen, Streep, Roberts?)

DAVID O. SELZNICK’S HOLLYWOOD by Ronald Haver.  Scholarly and fun.  A survey of the man, his studio and his era  —  in coffee table format with gorgeous color sections on Gone with the Wind and Duel in the Sun.

THE REEL LIST; a categorical companion to over 2,000 memorable films by Lynne Arany, Tom Dyia and Gary Goldsmith.  Appropriately subtitled “a categorical companion,” it contains 200 lists of 9 or 10 films on themes and subjects like films about killing your spouse, films on the checkered flag (auto racing), boys to men, gotta dance  —  and many more.  A great and unusual viewing guide.

DIARY OF A FILM by Jean Cocteau.  One of the earliest, and still one of the best, “making of” ‘s in personal, very honest form by French filmmaker Jean Cocteau about his Beauty and the Beast.  With evocative photographs.

VALENTINO by Irving Shulman.  There are more factual, reliable books about the screen’s legendary lover but Shulman captures the charisma of the man Jesse Lasky called “the greatest star of them all”  —   and the madness of his fans.

SEEING THROUGH MOVIES by Mark Crispin Miller.  A collection of several long essays by Crispin and others,highly readable but seriously thoughtful.  For example, there is one dealing with how and where we see films (tv at home, in a theater) and the difference that makes.  Another treats films about Vietnam.

One of Judy Garland’s greatest hits, directed by Vincente Minnelli

 

 

 

 

Valentino in BLOOD AND SAND

 

 

 

 

AND NEXT BLOG:  10 MORE.

 

REQUEST FOR INPUT:  Readers and followers will note that the list lacks a book about animation.  Suggestions, anyone?

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LIBRARY FIND

Found at our local library by my collaborator BKG

TARANTINO:  A RETROSPECTIVE by Tom Shone.  Insight Editions, 2017.

A comprehensive survey lavishly, but meaningfully, illustrated.

NEXT FRIDAY BLOG March 1

Until then,
See you at the movies,
Rick

 

 

ROARING SILENCE

The Winning of Barbara Worth
Henry King
1926

This is a well-paced drama featuring strong visuals.  The prologue, with so few titles, leaves an indelible impression of the vast southwest on all the subsequent action.

The first encounter between William Holmes (Ronald Colman) and Barbara Worth (Vilma Banky) is nearly wordless, but lovely, lingering and believable.  The sequence is long enough and establishes such rapport between them that we can believe in love at first sight.

The flood is finely paced, well-photographed and, again, believable  —  as a result of creative  special effects.  (Them was the days.)

Colman and Banky are excellent.  She creates such a credible Woman of the Western Desert  —  SPOILER ALERT  —  that her acceptance of life in the East in the coda comes as a disappointment.

As Abe Lee a young Gary Cooper is okay  —  boyishly handsome and tall, tall in the saddle.

screenplay by Frances Marion from the novel by Harold Bell Wright,
photography by George Barnes

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Another quotation from Italo Calvino:  I haven’t said it yet, though I felt it would be understood, that for me the cinema meant American cinema, the Hollywood production of the time.  ‘My’ period goes pretty much from Lives of a Bengal Lancer, with Gary Cooper, and Mutiny on the Bounty, with Charles Laughton and Clark Gable, up to the death of Jean Harlow…”  “The American cinema as it was then was composed of a gallery of actors’ faces unparalleled either before or after…making of Marlene Dietrich not so much an immediate object of desire but desire itself.”

AND MORE:  “Clark Gable represented a sort of brutality leavened with boastful swagger, Gary Cooper was cold blood filtered through irony; for those who counted on overcoming obstacles with a mixture of humour and savoir faire,  there was the aplomb of William :Powell and the discretion of Franchot Tone; for the introvert who masters his shyness there was James Stewart, while Spencer Tracy was the model of the just, open-minded man who knows how to do things with his hands; and we were even given a rare example of the intellectual hero in Leslie Howard.”  (“A Cinema-Goer’s Autobiography” in The Road to San Giovanni by Italo Calvino.  New York, Pantheon Books, 1993.)

COMING SOON FROM RICK’S FLICKS to that screen nearest you:

Best Books on Film

and

The Wonder of Jude Law

NEXT FRIDAY POST January 18, 2019

Until then,
See you AT the movies in THE NEW YEAR,
Rick

 

TALKIE TALK

Rick’s Journal    –    MY FILM CAREER

The Most Dangerous Game
Ernest B. Schoedsack & Irving Pichel
1932

I rarely speak of a film as dated unless I mean to compliment it.  But that adjective did come to mind in the typical sense as I watched The Most Dangerous Game from the famous story by Richard Connell about a mad hunter who hunts men.  It’s not that it’s talky, though it is.  There were actually talky silents, over-burdened with inter-titles.  The datedness here has to do with the  stilted delivery of dialogue.  Though Garbo had already spoken with naturalness on screen and Lewis Milestone had thrilled us with sound in All Quiet on the Western Front, the actors’ speech in this film is unnatural; and Leslie Banks’ performance is what would today be described as over-the-top.  But he is effective, and he helps save The Most Dangerous Game.

Perpetually beleaguered Fay Wray with Joel McCrae in THE MOST DANGEROUS GAME

The chase sequence is of justified fame.  Silly as it all is, the photography of the eerie mist, the pace and the cutting make it exciting.  The conclusion is also fine.  We know how it will end, but the camera evades the horror  —  allowing us as much horror as we need.

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Italo Calvino, in the “Cinema-Goer’s Autobiography” section of The Road to San Giovanni, writes about the moviegoers of his generation, all of whom  —  except my own father  —  walked into a movie any old time at all.  Showings then were continuous, and you walked into the film of your choice at a time convenient for you, saw it to the end, waited for it to begin again, and watched it until it reached the point where you had entered,  (the origin of the expression “This is where I came in.”).

Quoting Calvino:  “What’s more, there would sometimes be a bit missing between the beginning and the end, since suddenly looking at my watch I’d realize I was late and that if I didn’t want to incur my parents’ wrath I’d have to leave before the sequence I’d come in at reappeared on the screen.  So that many films were left with a hole in the middle, and even today, after thirty years  —  what am I saying?  —  almost forty, when I find myself watching one of those old films  —  on television for example  —  I’ll recognize the moment I walked into the cinema, the scenes I watched without understanding, and I’ll retrieve the lost pieces and complete the puzzle as if I’d left it unfinished only the day before.”  (Italo Calvino. The Road to San Giovanni.  New York, Pantheon Books, 1993.)

Today’s viewer needs to realize that usually between the end of the feature and the beginning of its next showing, one would sit through a newsreel, a trailer, a cartoon and perhaps a travel short.  And in theaters that showed what were called double feature programs, you would sit through an entire second film before getting back to the start of the one you came in on.

Imagine the havoc wreaked with Hitchcock’s suspense.

My father, who finished only four grades of school, knew better way back then and taught us to telephone the theater and ask the starting time of the feature.

NEXT FRIDAY POST January 4, 2019.

Until then,
See you at the movies,
Rick

RAUNCHY SIGNIFICANCE

Sorry to Bother You is about important matters.  It looks at societal trends which affect us all  —  and to which we knowingly or unknowingly contribute.  Telemarketing and the invasion of privacy that it entails.  The influence of corporations on our daily lives.  The numbing of sensibilities by the televised repetition of horrors.

Central to the plot is an appalling television show  —  insensitively viewed by millions.  A central feature of the show is the beating up of contestants, then bathing them in excrement.  America watches, enthralled.

The moments about privacy  —  and its lack  —  which suddenly put  the telemarketer in the room with the called victim, is cleverly achieved through visual/technological means which are exclusively cinema’s.  Boots Riley sets us up for accepting anything,and we move from our black hero at a party leading whites in a racist rap chant to Frankensteinian fantasy;  and he has us believing it all.

LAKEITH STANFIELD
photograph by Rachael Wright, used with permission

The acting is admirable.  Sorry to Bother You is superbly cast down to the smallest roles.  Lakeith Stanfield is outstanding.  He is a real charmer, dirty mouth and all.

Sorry to Bother You
Boots Riley
2018

NEXT Friday POST December 14

Until then,
See you at the movies,
Rick

SHORT TAKES – EARLY THIRTIES HOLLYWOOD

QUOTE FOR THE WEEK:

There were years when I went to the cinema almost every day and maybe even twice a day, and those were the years between ’36 and the war, the years of my adolescence. It was a time when the cinema became the world for me. (“A Cinema-Goer’s Autobiography” in The Road to San Giovanni by Italo Calvino.)

Rick’s Journal    –  MY FILM CAREER

Baby  Face
Alfred E. Green
1933

I never look forward to any film featuring Barbara Stanwyck  —  except The Lady Eve, Double Indemnity or Meet John Doe.  But this is a gripping story, visually presented.  The camera climbs up the building in which our “heroine” continually reaches for and achieves success.

She is believable in the role and gives the sex scenes  real punch.

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Stingaree
William A. Wellman
1934

Set on an Australian cattle ranch this period piece is a silly melodrama, but the direction and the performances makes us believe it.

Director William Wellman

There are fine moments.  There is a scene of Richard Dix and Irene Dunne exploring a trunk of clothes that has a magical light.  And in an at-the-piano scene in which Dunne sings to Dix’s accompaniment, their exchange of amorous glances is potent.  More than once in the film  Dunne’s thoughts in the form of unspoken flashbacks are superimposed over her face on screen.  The common silent technique is used to advantage here in 1934.

Unfortunately, the supposed Australian setting is warred against by a typical-then  Hollywood mix of accents.

SPOILER ALERT:  The ending is a 1934 shocker as Dunne rides off, on horseback, with Dix who is fleeing the police.

My Halliwell guide says that the film has a color sequence, but there was not one in the Turner Classic Movies print I viewed.

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ADDENDUM TO FABULOUS DUO (Rick’s Flicks 10/26)

CINEVENT comment on the sequence in which Sascha plays his New York-inspired composition:  “The scene opens as Sascha is playing…As Gaynor runs down the fire escape, the music surges forth with a pulsating rhythm that could only be Gershwin.  For this complex mixture of curiosity and awe turning to alienation and depression, Butler created a wonderful montage full of Germanic images, including spirits rising from a graveyard and the skyline metamorphosing into clutching hands, as Gaynor runs through the city, each block bringing more terror than the last.  Gershwin’s score goes on to capture these images with a piece of music so reminiscent of his Rhapsody in Blue that he initially called it Rhapsody in Rivers.”  (Eventually New York Rhapsody.)    —    (From CINEVENT notes 2007 by Dave Snyder and Steven Haynes.)

THE LEGENDARY DUO _____________________________________________________________

AND A FINAL QUOTE:

Director Jim Jarmusch on photographer Robby Müller:  “He really taught me how to make a film:  how to avoid the obvious in locations; how to use beauty in the service of the story and characters; and how black and white can stimulate the imagination by a reduction of information  —  that it can be more dreamlike and evocative than color.”

Müller, who photographed Jarmusch’s Dead Man and Wim Wenders’ Paris, Texas, died this past summer.

(Quote from the New York Times obituary for Robby Müller by Richard Sandomir, 8/11/18.)

NEXT FRIDAY POST November 30

Until then,
See you at the movies,
Rick